Ambulance Stories: The Best & Worst of Hamptons Ambulance Rides

Goliath ambulance cartoon by Dan Rattiner
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

Elsewhere in this publication, you might find a restaurant review or a play review. What I am going to review here is ambulances. Over my long years in the Hamptons, I’ve been carted off to Southampton Hospital (now called Stony Brook Southampton Hospital) four times. You don’t forget these things.

The occasion for my writing about this is that last week East Hampton Village took over the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association, an independent, privately run organization with its own budgets, chiefs, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), aides, drivers and volunteers. It’s been that way for decades. The village felt there were problems so they created a Department of Emergency Medical Service (EMS). Were there? My report will be honest and truthful. Won’t this be fun?

My first trip took place in 1981. I was 42 years old, it was a rainy summer’s day and I was alone, skipping happily along the sidewalk on East Hampton’s Main Street thinking about how happy I was — I had just gotten married — and I caught my foot in a crack in front of the five and 10 and fell down in a heap. There had been a snapping sound in my left ankle. And I was in a lot of pain. This was not going to be good.

Today, some of the most fashionable shops in the world — Gucci, Ralph Lauren and Cartier, among others — occupy most stores on Main Street. Back then, the stores were local, like Marley’s stationery shop, Eddie’s Luncheonette, Brill’s Clothing Store. There I lay, making a scene, embarrassed to be doing that, in front of the five and 10, screaming for help.

People with umbrellas gathered around. Someone draped a sport jacket over me to shield me from the rain. Soon, an ambulance arrived and the volunteers put an inflatable cast on my broken ankle, moved me onto a gurney, slid me into the ambulance and rushed me off to the hospital. The interior was well lit and well stocked. They made me as comfortable as possible. It was a four-star operation.

Back then, though, an ambulance call would be heard in every village and town on shortwave radios high on shelves in offices, farmhouses, marinas and businesses. Hearing them, the volunteers, people in the community, would drop what they were doing, run to their cars, turn on flashing blue dashboard lights and rush to the scene, where, with others, they’d attend to the injured, sometimes saving lives.

Today, with fewer locals able to afford to live here, getting volunteers can be difficult. But the services make do.

After my fall, I wound up in a cast, foot to hip, for six uncomfortable weeks. But I remember that caring trip very well. Later, the richest man in town, Robert David Lion Gardiner, told me it was he who, in the rain, threw his jacket over me and stayed there among the crowd until help arrived.

Also later, a lawyer friend told me I could sue the town for negligence and get about $18,000 for a broken leg. But I loved East Hampton. So I didn’t.

My second ambulance trip came in 2005. My wife and I had pulled up the driveway to our front door after doing a bit of shopping downtown. She was driving. I remember opening the passenger’s door and moving my right foot out. The next thing I remember was my wife, hovering over me, the sun above her, slapping me in the face. “Wake up!” she kept shouting. “Stop slapping me,” I said.

She’d found me unconscious on my back in the driveway, the car door still open, bleeding from the back of my head. She took out her phone and called an ambulance.

I recall this ambulance arriving quickly but being poorly equipped. Straps secured me to a gurney inside. But for the rest, it was like a workman’s van with the word “ambulance” on the side. It bounced around. They had dressed my wound. They apologized. All their new ambulances were out elsewhere. So this was it. But they were as caring and professional as ever. Dehydration turned out to have been the cause.

My third trip took place in 2009. On a day in July, I was at our office in Southampton on County Road 39 and feeling poorly. I told the staff I would drive home early. Actually, I thought maybe I should drive to the hospital. But I decided no. I’d just drive carefully down Route 27 to my home in East Hampton.

But I never made it. Just after turning left at Town Pond onto Main Street, I remember driving past Guild Hall thinking, “Well, I’m almost home.” Then, that was it. The crashing sound of metal on metal in front of the Presbyterian Church on Main Street awakened me. Asleep, I’d swerved into a parked car.

It took a while for an ambulance to arrive. In the interim, the police blocked off Main Street. Out of my crumpled car, I sat on the curb, unhurt, but frightened. Nobody was in the other car. But boy, they’d be pissed. It also occurred to me that if I’d slept another 30 seconds, I’d have hit pedestrians in front of the movie theater. Horrible.

The ambulance, well stocked and professionally attended, now arrived. Strapped inside, I saw a monitor reporting my blood pressure at 210. The EMT said I was in shock. And it turned out I was fine.

The last time I was in an ambulance was in 2019. My wife and I came into the house carrying packages, I tripped over our dog, hit my head on a piano bench and went down. I was 80 years old. Bleeding, I refused to get up. “I’ll lie here until the volunteers come and check me out,” I told her.

Sitting me on the piano bench, they said I was lucky. The vitals were good. No problem.

“But just in case,” I said, “please take me to the emergency room. Just to be sure.”

Strapped on the gurney in the ambulance, I saw it was well stocked, and also professionally run. Turned out I was okay. But I think I was right to have done that.

Now, with East Hampton Village replacing the ambulance association, feelings are hurt. Some volunteers say they will not continue. The village says there will be new hires, paid, to replace those who leave.

Well, we’ll see what happens.